Page last updated at 11:09 GMT, Sunday, 12 April 2009 12:09 UK

Sri Lanka military declares truce

By Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC News, Colombo

Protests in London 11/04/09
Tens of thousands of Tamils have been protesting in western capitals.

Sri Lanka's government has declared a temporary halt to its offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels in the north-east.

The move, which aims to let civilians leave the conflict zone safely, comes in view of New Year celebrations that start on Monday, the government said.

There has been no immediate response from the Tamil Tigers.

The authorities have been under growing international pressure to allow time for tens of thousands of trapped civilians to leave the war zone safely.

The decision came after a special cabinet meeting headed by President Mahinda Rajapakse.

'This is about a humanitarian engagement'

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told the BBC that government forces would not engage in any offensive operations during the two-day Sinhala and Tamil New Year period.

He said the decision was taken to allow time for civilians to leave the war zone safely.

The authorities had been under pressure from the UN, US and other countries to allow a humanitarian pause to allow civilians time to leave the conflict zone.

Tamil protest in Parliament Square

Tens of thousands of people, mostly Tamils, have been protesting in Western capitals demanding an immediate ceasefire in north-eastern Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan military says it has captured the entire Tamil Tiger-held territory in the north and pushed the rebels into a government-designated safe zone set up to protect civilians in the north-east.

The defence ministry says security forces have surrounded the no-fire zone on all three sides and troops are now poised to enter the area to rescue the civilians.

There has been no immediate reaction from the rebels to the government's announcement on temporary halt to the fighting.

The United Nations has warned that if the army enters the safe zone in pursuit of the rebels, there could be bloodbath on the beaches of north-eastern Sri Lanka.


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